The Niger Delta occupies 7.5% of the total land area of Nigeria and was historically a major producer of palm oil with traders living in the area using the Delta and the River Niger as a centre for inland trade for oil and outward trade for slaves. Originally covering areas that were part of the ancient Benin and Calabar kingdoms the land determined as the Delta today occupies 70,000 square km and is home to thirty one million, mainly impoverished people. Portuguese explorers and traders began their activity the area in the fifteenth century after they reached the mouth of the River Niger in 1470 then from 1806 until the end of that century the British were busy exploring the area, charting its territory and rivers and preparing it for trade, mainly in palm oil which it was hoped would provide financial compensation for the loss of the slave trade that had seen millions of Nigerian slaves shipped to America during the 16-18th centuries.
As part of this exploration George Goldie (1846 - 1925), a former Royal Engineer, had formed the United African Company with designs to resurrect a company modelled on the former East India Company to operate in what is now modern day Nigeria. He worked with others trading in the area and the trading company effectively took control of the Lower Niger River. It was renamed as the National African Company in 1882 and within two years Goldie and his agents had signed treaties with tribal leaders including the emirs of Sokoto and Gandoalong along the Benue and Niger rivers and had forged deeper into the mainland much to the consternation of local tribes of the interior who understood they had an unwritten agreement that trade would be limited to coastal areas.
In 1886 the company was once again renamed as the Royal Niger Company after receiving a charter from the British government authorizing it to administer the Niger Delta and the country on the banks of the Niger and Benue rivers. However this mandate by itself was insufficient to stop the growing role in the area of the state sponsored protectorates of France and Germany who were also jostling for hegemony as well as growing dissent from native tribes of the interior that often broke out into open conflict requiring use of gun boats deployed by the Royal Navy. As such, on 31st December 1899, the Royal Niger Company sold its interests to the British Government for UK865,000 and merged with the Niger Coast Protectorate (formerly the Oil Rivers Protectorate of Brass, Bonny, Opobo, Aobh, and Old Calabar excluding Lagos) to form the Southern Nigeria Protectorate under the control of the British Colonial Office.
As Nigeria began to prepare for independence, the search for oil began in the Delta in the 1950s and by 1956 it was discovered in commercial quantities. Less than two years later it was being commercially produced and sold on the international markets. Today around two million barrels of oil are extracted in the Niger Delta every day making it the world's eight largest oil producer in a country that remains one of the world's poorest as the oil revenues largely bypass those living and working outside that industry. Foreign companies extract the oil and it has been alleged that they do so without regard for local cultures or the local environment which has been ravaged by oil spills, fires, pollution, deforestation and poor waste management. As such, much of the Niger Delta is increasingly uninhabitable with local groups being forced to leave the area. This video of the Niger Delta has some different facts and figures however describes what may happen to the area and its inhabitants should climate change continue to flood the area.
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